Study Guide

Dune Fate & Free Will

By Frank Herbert

Fate & Free Will

If only [Jessica had] borne us a girl as she was ordered to do! (1.45)

If the Bene Gesserit has one thing going for it, it's a raging God complex. Unfortunately for the Reverend Mother, her powers don't quite dominate the free will of her subordinates. Jessica can still make her own decisions.

"I see in the future what I've see in the past. You well know the pattern of our affairs, Jessica." (3.22)

Here, understanding the future isn't about magically knowing what will happen. It's more about pattern recognition—you know, understanding that history repeats itself. So, if you didn't hit a jackpot on that one-armed bandit the last fifty plays, chances are…

"A day comes," the Duke said, "when the potential Mentat must learn what's being done. It may no longer be done to him. The Mentat has to share in the choice of whether to continue or abandon the training." (6.83)

This ties nicely into the "Coming of Age" theme. The Duke lets his son in on a little secret. When you're younger, you have less free will because—let's face it—you're easy to manipulate. But as you grow older and increase your knowledge, this isn't the case as often. At least, we certainly hope it isn't.

[Jessica] heard the testing quality in [Kynes's] voice, said, "Growth is limited by that necessity which is present in the least amount. And, naturally, the least favorable condition controls the growth rate." (6.169)

And now fate and free will connect to the theme of "Man and the Natural World." How about that? Kynes suggests that the ecology of an environment is fated based on the least favorable condition of that ecology. Now that we think about it, this quote also connects to water in our "Symbols" section, since water symbolizes the scarcest resource in an ecological system.

Does every human have this blind spot? [Hawat] wondered. Can any of us be ordered into action before he can resist? The idea staggered him. Who could stop a person with such power? (17.187)

Interesting question there, Hawat. Is the difference between fate and free will simply the question of whether or not we are blind to our own manipulation? If so, then who pulls the strings? These questions could lead down some pretty dark rabbit holes.

The thing was a spectrum of possibilities from the most remote past to the most remote future—from the most probably to the most improbably. He saw his own death in countless ways. (22.99)

It's the Schrödinger's cat of philosophical inquires—only the thought experiment is a little less enjoyable when you're the cat.

[Paul] joined her in the ornithopter, still wrestling with the thought that this was blind ground, unseen in any prescient vision. And he realized with an abrupt sense of shock that he had been giving more and more reliance to prescient memory and it had weakened him for this particular emergency. (25.171)

Paul's sixth sense acts just like one of the original five senses. If too much emphasis is put on one, then the others grow dull. Of course, this suggests that the opposite should also be true. If you lose one of your senses, the others will pick up the slack.

Idaho was with us in the vision, [Paul] remembered. But now Idaho is dead. (27.65)

Paul's future-telling abilities result in a gaffe. He sees one thing, and through the free will of himself or others, another thing happens. Good news for free will, unless you're Duncan Idaho, of course.

And what [Paul] saw was a time nexus within this cave, a boiling of possibilities focused here, wherein the most minute action—a wink of an eye, a careless word, a misplaced grain of sand—moved a gigantic lever across the known universe. He saw violence with the outcome subject to so many variables that his slightest movement created vast shiftings in the pattern. (32.106)

Herbert draws on the Butterfly Effect to shape his universe's version of fate and freewill. No, no, not that awful movie, but the actual theory of the Butterfly Effect.

I am a theater of processes, [Paul] told himself. I am a prey to the imperfect vision, to the race consciousness, and its terrible purpose. Yet, he could not escape the fear that he had somehow overrun himself, lost his position in time, so that past and future and present mingled without distinction. (40.2-3)

This is your brain on clairvoyant drugs. The fate-and-free-will question comes to a head here. The fate of the individual (Paul) falls prey to the free will of the society (race consciousness). And the race consciousness exists outside of the here and now. What's a present-bound guy to do?